“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15)
In this post we continue looking at the sort of things that produce false teachings.
Faulty biblical interpretation. It kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it? One main reason we have false teachings and heresies in the church is because people wrongly interpret the Bible. Even very humble and sincere people wrongly interpret the Bible. I think we can all agree on this.
Only it is always the other guy or the other group that’s doing it wrong! It couldn’t be that we are wrong because we are truly sincere in our faith and God is blessing us. But sincerity itself is no guarantee that I am rightly interpreting the Bible. And God’s blessing and fruit in my life and ministry are not a sure proof that my beliefs are fully correct either! God blesses us because He is good and right and not because we are fully developed in our beliefs and practices! We must always be seeking to accurately handle the word of God.
Are we willing to take a very serious look at how we have arrived at our beliefs? Almost without exception every sincere Christian honestly thinks that all of his/her beliefs have been derived accurately from the Bible. If this is so, how can so many sincere believers have so much disagreement about what the Bible teaches? It’s simple, actually. We all read the same Bible, but we do not all interpret it the same way. Or stated a bit differently, we do not all embrace the same approach and disciplines in how we “handle” the Scripture texts. Everyone starts greatly affected by our own preexisting prejudices, common cultural views, and church traditions. Only as we are willing to identify these potential “blinders” can we hope to humbly and accurately approach the Biblical text.
Paul exhorted Timothy to “handle the word of truth accurately…” Here are several important keys to accurate Bible interpretation. This is only a brief summary. There’s a link at the end of the post that will take you to more detailed help.
1. Unbiased approach. One of the hardest things to do is to come to the Biblical text and truly let it direct us in our thoughts, rather than projecting our own preunderstandings upon the text. If I go to the Bible with the motive of finding justification for the beliefs that I already hold, it is very likely that I will not be truly objective in my study. I will see what I really want to see. And this is the default way that we humans usually think.
2. Context is paramount. A huge part of interpretation errors could be remedied if everyone was required to first understand and state the big picture of the chapter and book that the text is taken from. This is the simple meaning of “context”. “Con-text” literally means, “with the text.” Every text of Scripture is connected to the verses that precede and follow. The writers of Scripture were not just writing down random thoughts connected by punctuation! If my interpretation and use of a particular verse of Scripture is not in keeping with the surrounding context, then I am misusing that text.
3. Look for the clear intention of the writers. The real goal in interpretation is NOT to find out what I think the text means but to discern what the person who wrote the text meant. To say, “Well, to me this verse means….” Is from the outset NOT proper interpretation. Because this suggests that writer of the text did not have his own clearly intended meaning. So the better statement when approaching the text is, “I think the writer very clearly intended his readers to understand that…”
Almost without exception there is a singular and clear idea being conveyed by the author of the Biblical passage we are reading. Our most important task is to determine this meaning. If my interpretation of a passage of Scripture does not reflect the writer’s most obvious purpose for writing the passage, then I am forcing my own agenda upon the text. This is very dangerous! Only after arriving at the author’s intention, can we safely move on to find practical and accurate ways to apply the meaning of the text to our own lives and setting.
For more help on this subject you can click here to download a more in-depth paper I’ve written on this subject.